Have you ever wondered why Christians eat a small piece of bread and and drink a sip of wine (or grape juice) in some church services?
You’re not alone.
For thousands of years, the Church has continued a practice called communion, or depending on different church traditions, the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is a part of the liturgy of the Ancient Church designed to take us on a journey from this world into a brief encounter with the Kingdom of God and then back out again to bear witness to it.
In the ancient liturgy every act is a metaphor or symbol. The word liturgy means "the work of the people." The bread and the wine are symbols designed to reenact the redemption story. The bread is Christ's body and the wine is His blood. It is part of the work of the people to encounter God.
The word "Eucharist" means "thanksgiving". It is the act of being thankful for the divine encounter we have in Christ. God draws near in the symbolic elements of the grain and the grape.
We need more than information to nourish us. We are built for first hand experiences with the living God. The grain and the grape makes the encounter available for everyone.
“It’s like what Gandhi said: “The world is so hungry for God that God could only come as a piece of bread. We so long for joy that God even risked coming into the world in the form of intoxication, that risky thing called wine.”
― Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale
Jesus started the tradition of communion. He instructed His followers to use bread and wine to remember the sacrifice He was going to make when He died for our sins on the cross (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Jesus called Himself “the bread of life,” which means that we’re nourished by Him, we survive because of Him, and He satisfies us when everything else leaves us empty (John 6:48-51). There’s a connection between our nearness to Jesus, believing in Him, and being fulfilled by Him (John 6:35).
The early Church celebrated Jesus by taking communion, sometimes every day (Acts 2:42-46). They saw that every time they gathered around a table to eat and drink, it was a chance to recognize Jesus and thank God for all He’s done.
“The Eucharist becomes the meal of unity binding Christians through time and space to be one body, one Christ, for the world."
—Stanley Hauerwas, Commentary on Matthew, pg. 219